by Quentin 'Cubist' Long
©2004 Quentin Long -- all rights reserved
I've mentioned elsewhere that I don't really care for magick in my reading matter, on the grounds that magick is, all too often, nothing more than a crutch for a lazy author (see my previous editorial on the topic). Knowing this, you shouldn't find it much of a surprise that I also tend to avoid fantasy stories that involve a high level of Divine activity -- and not just because active Gods, Who can do anything without needing to make even the least particle of sense, are a lazy author's best friend. Apart from the 'crutch factor', most writers don't bother to think about how the religions of a world with active Gods would differ from the religions of the real world! All too often, a 'fictitious' religion is all too recognizable as [insert Real World religion here] with the serial numbers filed off and a fresh coat of paint.
Once upon a time, the God of the Bible was a rather obtrusive kind of deity. Making the Sun stand still (i.e., Joshua), committing SFX-laden planetary genocide in wide-screen Technicolor and Dolby 5.1 surround sound (i.e., the Noachian Floode), gratuitously tormenting a righteous man to settle a bar bet with Satan (i.e., Job), any of dozens of other flashy Acts calculated to attract massive attention from anyone with two functioning brain cells; you name it, God was up for it, big time. But these days, a fair chunk of Christian theology is devoted to explaining how come God is so blasted camera-shy. In fact, some Christians believe the only reason anyone can even recognize a miracle for what it is, is because they have a 'spiritual gift' granted by God Himself! And let's not forget the 'problem of evil' and the 'problem of pain': If God is so blasted omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, why do bad things happen to good people? Christians do have answers for all such questions, of course... and those answers might even be true, for all I know... but whether they're true or not, those answers are, fundamentally, nothing more than attempts to make excuses for God's absence.
In a world with active Gods, no religion would need to make excuses for its Deity's (or Deities') absence. True, there might well be Deities as shy and retiring as the Bible God is currently -- but to the extent those Deities are worshipped at all, their religions would necessarily have far fewer followers, and far less temporal influence, than religions devoted to active and obvious Gods. Put it this way: If you had to choose between Zelgrund the Ethereally Uninvolved, and Torgon the Bringer of Storms and Lightning, which God would you worship? Torgon's going to rake in the chips, follower-wise, if only because lots of people will sign up in hopes of persuading Torgon to drop his lightning somewhere else.
Given active Deities, the problems of pain and evil are no problems at all -- it's blatantly obvious why bad things happen to good people, whether because the question doesn't arise at all (because the active Deity in question doesn't let it), or "God X is in conflict with God Y", or "Yes, God X really is a bastard at times," or whatever the explanation turns out to be.
To sum up: In a world of active Gods, all those bits of modern-era doctrine that are designed to rationalize God's absence would be completely irrelevant. Such bits not only can, but should, be discarded by any author who is attempting to create a religion for such a world. And that's just the beginning! Consider all the shamen (i.e., priests, pastors, ministers, gurus, spiritual leaders, et cetera ad nauseum) whose behavior has marked them as falling short... sometimes far short... of the standards set by the God(s) they allegedly speak for. You know who I'm talking about; sleazy televangelists, collared pedophiles, all the rest of that unsavory breed.
Exactly how long would an active Deity tolerate that sort of nonsense in Its clergy? I know, standard Christian doctrine posits that God lets such things happen because He has oodles and oodles of respect for free will -- nevertheless, the fact is that He does let such things happen, which means this "He respects free will" schtick is yet another rationalization for God's absence. I repeat: Exactly how long would an active Deity tolerate that sort of nonsense in Its clergy?
Given active Gods, all shamen will be shining exemplars of their respective Gods' teachings. Or else. Oh, it's possible that a con artist might (try to?) work up a completely fabricated cult which has no inconvenient Deity behind it to enforce Its will, but there are at least two reasons why that might not work very well. First: Gods like to collect worshippers -- and a bogus, Deity-free cult would, by definition, not have any sort of Divine protection against having its adherents assimilated by any genuine religion in the vicinity. Second: Depending on how Gods come to exist, such a cult might actually create the God it worships, which would rather defeat the purpose of the whole exercise! All in all, it's safe to say that a world of active Gods is not going to have much (if any) room for hypocrisy in its shamen.